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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Yoga Therapy and Restorative Yoga

 "Real, lasting change usually begins with discomfort and 
ends with joy and respect for oneself." 
Nicolai Bachman
Just completed leading 7 days of yoga therapy and restorative yoga 7 at Yogshakti Teacher Training in Kuala Lumpur with 18 beautiful teachers from around the world yesterday. The biggest joy was watching each one of them expand their heart-mind, begin to grasp challenging anatomy and to integrate what they've learned as they practiced teaching with each other. 
Yoga therapy is a holistic approach to yoga that makes the practice accessible, self healing, and facilitates injury prevention. It's a process of discovering what works for you as the student and teacher. Combined with intention and clear direction, we learn how to skillfully recognize a student's needs by drawing on our intuition, experiences and awareness of what's happening now in a student's body. Poses can be Active (therapeutic) for learning more functional movement or they can be restful and restorative to promote relaxation and recuperation. 
Restorative yoga uses props as adaptations of traditional yoga postures in a passively supported way by filling any space between the student's body and the floor. The focus is not on stretching but rather releasing tension, increasing circulation, bringing comfort and cultivating stillness while noticing the breath. 

"I liked the way Melissa explained Anatomy as a functional yoga applied method. I loved all the teaching tools she offered for each pose with props, alternatives and other ways to see things."

"Melissa, thank you so much for a wonderful Yoga Therapy training. I have really enjoyed the group and the learning and feel so much more knowledgable in anatomy and postural assessment and of my own body's strengths and compensations. The restorative yoga sessions have been great and after struggling a bit to see how to integrate the yoga therapy approach into my practice and teaching, it now all seems to have fallen into place. With a big happy hug!" 

"I really enjoyed going through the set up and exploration of restorative poses and also working with my peers on the postural and yoga therapy assessments. The group energy and sharing, mantras and meditations were also highlights in this training for me."

"For me it was very useful to learn how to use props correctly for specific situations and to be able to make yoga accessible to all. Yoga Therapy will be a great addition to my personal experience and teaching." 

Email here for more info on the next Yoga Therapy training in Texas, Thailand or Malaysia.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

I sure love you.

Once buzzed in, I walked past the fish tank on the left when an unusually foul smell assaulted me from the bathroom tucked to the right of the corridor and revealed a half naked woman wrestling with a caregiver. 

I moved quickly through the next room where Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart were talking flirtively in black and white. Passed a silver haired shrunken woman in a blue top shuffling by while wringing her hands and stopped short as I turned the next corner and caught glimpse of her.

Marcee, August 2013
Seated in a simple striped shirt and usual smart jeans that gaped from her recent weight loss, she gazed out the window with her now dulled blue-brown speckled eyes. She didn't move to look at me as I sat down. 

I reached for her hand tentatively. Would she be upset by the unfamiliar touch? 

'Hi Marcee,' I said. 

We sat for a while, and I tried hard to get her to laugh or even look at me. I performed silly faces and talked out loud to her in what she must have interpreted as gibberish. It felt like chattering to someone who's ignoring you, only I knew she simply wasn't comprehending. Anything. 

A heavy emptiness fell between us. 

In desperation to connect, I reached to rub her shoulder as my dad suggested that she seemed to respond to his touch. Hopeful she'd acknowledge mine, too. She didn't seem to notice. 

Curious if she would sing along, I played the entire album from Diana Krall's greatest hits, one of her favorite jazz singers. My hopes were raised with a few fleeting moments of humming and the tapping of her foot to the beat. 

Peel me a grape, a song that used to make me giggle when I was younger, came on. Smiling through pooling tears, I leaned over and said, 'I sure love you.'

Marcee, August 2014
Suddenly her words, which up to this point were incoherent, were as clear as the song itself. 'You do?' she asked. 

I managed to whisper, 'Yes. Yes, I do.' 

Alzheimer’s is an insidious disease that slowly unravels the mind and the self. It shakes families to the core, and forces them to adapt in smart and meaningful ways. These four short documentary films explore that process. I recently watched A Place Called Pluto and was reminded of my step mother, Marcee's early stages of Alzheimer's. How she knew she had the disease, and yet couldn't quite articulate it as well as award-winning journalist Greg O’Brien can. She is now in the last stages of Alzheimer's. Everyone is unrecognizable to her, and she is completely incontinent and in need of help to eat.

Reading O'Brien's story is like diving into what must have been her thoughts, her fears, and her rage when this journey first began. The curse and the blessing of this is: she is a shell of a body with so little of her once vivacious personality left, and yet she no longer knows she has the disease. 

For the caregivers, for my father... my heart aches. For the ones embodying this disease, I simply pray the quality of life left will be full of dignity and ease. 

More than 5 million Americans are living with this disease. To make a difference, please get involved.

Marcee & me, August 2014

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

breath inside the breath

" 'Take your eyes away from the needle. Slow your breath, baby. Take a slow, long sip of air and exhale longer," I tell my 8 year old son who is undergoing chemo for tumor in his arm. Using imagination and breathing has helped his anxiety and calmed his butterfly stomach each week. On weeks where he doesn't focus on breathing, he often throws up before we even start treatment."

This is my yoga. The breath inside the breath."

Read more on Yoga Vibes:

Sunday, August 17, 2014

To Rest

The human brain is a glutton, constantly demanding 20 percent of all the energy the body produces. It's no wonder with all the digital impact we live with that we can never seem to turn it off. Unless of course, we need to recall something critical during a test or make an important quick decision. Or when we are in love, our wisdom and intuitive part of our brain appears to have hit the pause button. 

Oh the crazed choices I have made when love induced dopamine gave me a feeling of euphoria and clouded my senses. Over time though, that fortunately fades and the wisdom body kicks in. Suddenly, I realize how damn tired I am. How I have been spinning my wheels to please others or even a passionate attempt at doing what I love: yoga. 

Many things are good but there are paths that are more soul-quenching than others. 

I think I've found it within Rest.

"To rest is not self indulgent, to rest is to prepare to give the best of ourselves, and perhaps, most importantly, arrive at a place where we are able to understand what we have already been given."

Rest is an essential part of healthy brain function. In order to function optimally, at our best, we all have to have it. When life, kids or work demands I wake up and my body is not rested, I feel drained. I reach for things like coffee or plunge into naps at odd hours just to keep up. When I travel abroad, I'm usually so fatigued that I can sleep the entire 17 hour first flight. Entirely. Now that's tired. 

Lack of rest and adequate sleep can cause depression, weight gain, dull your brain, age your skin, health problems, disinterest in sex, and increase your risk of death. We all know the end of our story, but wouldn't it be a gift to ourselves and certainly to those we love to prolong our life by getting the rest our body is craving?

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer's day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” ~John Lubbock

Now home in Asia after months of traveling, I'm coming back to a routine of nurturing myself. Catching up on work emails, yes, but also making time for quiet, writing, a realistic yoga asana and pranayama practice, my kids, or just simply walking the dog without my phone. And, of course, sleep. Just doing life at it's normal rhythm without forcing things or over scheduling. Creating space for Rest.

From my favorite author and poet, Davide Whyte. He shares his definition of rest which resonates with my desire to return to inner stillness, breath and feeling whole again.

"REST is the conversation between what we love to do and how we love to be. Rest is the essence of giving and receiving. Rest is an act of remembering, imaginatively and intellectually but also physiologically and physically. To rest is to give up on the already exhausted will as the prime motivator of endeavor, with its endless outward need to reward itself through established goals. To rest is to give up on worrying and fretting and the sense that there is something wrong with the world unless we are there to put it right; to rest is to fall back literally or figuratively from outer targets and shift the goal not to an inner static bulls eye, an imagined state of perfect stillness, but to an inner state of natural exchange.
The template of natural exchange is the breath, the autonomic giving and receiving which is the basis and the measure of life itself. We are rested when we are a living exchange between what lies inside and what lies outside, when we are an intriguing conversation between the potential that lies in our imagination and the possibilities for making that internal image real in the world; we are rested when we let things alone and let ourselves alone, to do what we do best, breathe as the body intended us to breathe, to walk as we were meant to walk, to live with the rhythm of a house and a home, giving and taking through cooking and cleaning. When we give and take in this easy foundational way we are closest to the authentic self, and closest to that self when we are most rested. To rest is not self indulgent, to rest is to prepare to give the best of ourselves, and perhaps, most importantly, arrive at a place where we are able to understand what we have already been given."

Monday, July 21, 2014


From my favorite poet, David Whyte.

It doesn’t interest me if there is one God 
or many gods.
I want to know if you belong or feel 
if you can know despair or see it in others.
I want to know
if you are prepared to live in the world
with its harsh need
to change you. If you can look back
with firm eyes,
saying this is where I stand. I want to know
if you know
how to melt into that fierce heat of living,
falling toward
the center of your longing. I want to know
if you are willing
to live, day by day, with the consequence of love
and the bitter
unwanted passion of your sure defeat.

I have heard, in that fierce embrace,
even the gods speak of God.

From RIVER FLOW: New and Selected Poems
© David Whyte and Many Rivers Press

His note about this poem: Oriah took her work 'The Invitation', from this poem, which had been written many years before, after she had participated in a workshop I gave in Toronto, in which I used Self Portrait as an exercise in which people were asked to write their own versions. For reasons known only to herself, Oriah failed to attribute it. DW

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A family history

Visiting my father in Santa Fe, New Mexico this month. My dad turned 72 last year, me 42. For the first time, I have felt his keen awareness of his impermanence. While his overall health is good, he's teetering along the delicate balance of family, dogs and house responsibilities. Thankfully, he seems happier than in many years.
He pulled out all the family photos from the days when we actually developed our pictures. Culling through them, there are many of me as a child, his wife, Marcee, of over 25 years who is in full time care for Alzheimer's, and images all the many trips taken over the years with and without me. Some older ones I haven't yet riffled through. So I will begin to add some of my favorites here. 
Many of the photos of Marcee and Dad capture the spirit of their friendship and love while expose their passion for their pets and flirtation with travel with friends and some side trips taken when my dad's job allowed him to travel. I remember him to be a bit of a high achiever. But also to have a strong curiosity for the world - just like his lust for books and music. 
Andrew today, photo of me at age 4 or 5
Nathan today, photo of me age 12
Me, when dad lived in Chicago, around 1977
Me, 1978 or '79
Circa 1978
Longwood gardens, 5th grade  

Dad & me, 4th grade, age 10 ( first pair of glasses)
Mamo, Dad's mom, age 21, 1939
Marie Thoma married Prentice White, 37 in 1941 at age 23. 

Marcee, March 1972
Marcee, 1968

Marcee, Devon, Penn circa1980
Me with Marcee, 4th of July 1987

Marcee, Washington 1987
Dad, early 1980
Dad, 1987

La Madera, NM '80's

Marcee, Phuket 1991
Thailand 1991
Dad, Taj Mahal 1991
Mamo and Granddad Carol, Santa Fe 1992
Mamo and me 1992
Dad and me 1993
Ghost Ranch, 1989

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Dear niece, I wanted to tell you, do you realize that life is the best thing ever?

Reflecting today as one niece graduates from High School and the other from University this semester. Both are incredible, resilient young women. Having lived far from them most of their lives, I missed a lot of milestones but also recognize that the moments I have witnessed close and far have been priceless.

I wanted to share some advise with them upon graduation. And, this commencement speech below could not be more perfect.

My dear nieces, may you live your lives so full, so vibrantly imperfect that what you offer to the world is the best version of you, your highest self. Always ask yourself, am I doing what makes me come alive?

Sharing the view with you,

"It's a great honor for me to be the third member of my family to receive an honorary doctorate from this great university. It's an honor to follow my great-uncle Jim, who was a gifted physician, and my Uncle Jack, who is a remarkable businessman. Both of them could have told you something important about their professions, about medicine or commerce.

I have no specialized field of interest or expertise, which puts me at a disadvantage, talking to you today. I'm a novelist. My work is human nature. Real life is all I know. Don't ever confuse the two, your life and your work. The second is only part of the first.

Don't ever forget what a friend once wrote Senator Paul Tsongas when the senator decided not to run for reelection because he'd been diagnosed with cancer: "No man ever said on his deathbed I wish I had spent more time in the office." Don't ever forget the words my father sent me on a postcard last year: "If you win the rat race, you're still a rat." Or what John Lennon wrote before he was gunned down in the driveway of the Dakota: "Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans."

You walk out of here this afternoon with only one thing that no one else has. There will be hundreds of people out there with your same degree; there will be thousands of people doing what you want to do for a living. But you will be the only person alive who has sole custody of your life. Your particular life. Your entire life. Not just your life at a desk, or your life on a bus, or in a car, or at the computer. Not just the life of your minds, but the life of your heart. Not just your bank account, but your soul.

People don't talk about the soul very much anymore. It's so much easier to write a resume than to craft a spirit. But a resume is a cold comfort on a winter night, or when you're sad, or broke, or lonely, or when you've gotten back the test results and they're not so good.

Here is my resume: I am a good mother to three children. I have tried never to let my profession stand in the way of being a good parent. I no longer consider myself the center of the universe. I show up. I listen, I try to laugh. I am a good friend to my husband. I have tried to make marriage vows mean what they say. I show up. I listen. I try to laugh. I am a good friend to my friends, and they to me. Without them, there would be nothing to say to you today, because I would be a cardboard cutout. But call them on the phone, and I meet them for lunch. I show up. I listen. I try to laugh.

I would be rotten, or at best mediocre at my job, if those other things were not true. You cannot be really first rate at your work if your work is all you are.

So here is what I wanted to tell you today:

Get a life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house. Do you think you'd care so very much about those things if you blew an aneurysm one afternoon, or found a lump in your breast? Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze over Seaside Heights, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over the water gap or the way a baby scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a cheerio with her thumb and first finger.

Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you love, and who love you. And remember that love is not leisure, it is work. Each time you look at your diploma, remember that you are still a student, still learning how to best treasure your connection to others. Pick up the phone. Send an e-mail. Write a letter. Kiss your Mom. Hug your Dad. Get a life in which you are generous.
Look around at the azaleas in the suburban neighborhood where you grew up; look at a full moon hanging silver in a black, black sky on a cold night.

And realize that life is the best thing ever, and that you have no business taking it for granted. Care so deeply about its goodness that you want to spread it around. Once in a while take money you would have spent on beers and give it to charity. Work in a soup kitchen. Be a big brother or sister.
All of you want to do well. But if you do not do good, too, then doing well will never be enough. It is so easy to waste our lives: our days, our hours, our minutes. It is so easy to take for granted the color of the azaleas, the sheen of the limestone on Fifth Avenue, the color of our kid's eyes, the way the melody in a symphony rises and falls and disappears and rises again. It is so easy to exist instead of live. I learned to live many years ago.

Something really, really bad happened to me, something that changed my life in ways that, if I had my druthers, it would never have been changed at all. And what I learned from it is what, today, seems to be the hardest lesson of all. I learned to love the journey, not the destination. I learned that it is not a dress rehearsal, and that today is the only guarantee you get. I learned to look at all the good in the world and to try to give some of it back because I believed in it completely and utterly. And I tried to do that, in part, by telling others what I had learned. By telling them this:

Consider the lilies of the field. Look at the fuzz on a baby's ear. Read in the backyard with the sun on your face. Learn to be happy. And think of life as a terminal illness because if you do you will live it with joy and passion, as it ought to be lived.

Well, you can learn all those things, out there, if you get a life, a full life, a professional life, yes, but another life, too, a life of love and laughs and a connection to other human beings. Just keep your eyes and ears open. Here you could learn in the classroom. There the classroom is everywhere. The exam comes at the very end. No man ever said on his deathbed I wish I had spent more time at the office. I found one of my best teachers on the boardwalk at Coney Island maybe 15 years ago. It was December, and I was doing a story about how the homeless survive in the winter months.

He and I sat on the edge of the wooden supports, dangling our feet over the side, and he told me about his schedule; panhandling the boulevard when the summer crowds were gone, sleeping in a church when the temperature went below freezing, hiding from the police amidst the Tilt a Whirl and the Cyclone and some of the other seasonal rides. But he told me that most of the time he stayed on the boardwalk, facing the water, just the way we were sitting now even when it got cold and he had to wear his newspapers after he read them.

And I asked him why. Why didn't he go to one of the shelters? Why didn't he check himself into the hospital for detox? And he just stared out at the ocean and said, "Look at the view, young lady. Look at the view."

And every day, in some little way, I try to do what he said. I try to look at the view. And that's the last thing I have to tell you today, words of wisdom from a man with not a dime in his pocket, no place to go, nowhere to be. Look at the view. You'll never be disappointed."

Pulitzer Prize winning author Anna Quindlen's commencement address to Villanova University, Friday 23 June 2000.